Answer: People mostly concerned about money and/or (increasingly) politics is my guess. Case in point, the casting of Tom Cruise as Lee Child’s anti-hero in the two “Jack Reacher” movies released a few years ago.
I’m a fan of the books, and read them as fast as Child churns them out (pretty fast; the series currently stands at 25, with another one apparently on the way). They’re not great literature, or even terribly believable, it’s true, but they are fast paced and generally end well. Also, I feel a bit of a personal connection to Lee Child who grew up a couple of streets over from Granny and Grandpa in Handsworth Wood, Birmingham, and who attended King Edward’s school for a while, as did my Uncle Arthur, as did (I’m prone to state again and again in my search for reflected glory), Edward Burne-Jones, J.R.R. Tolkien, Mark Steyn, and a number of other luminaries you have and haven’t heard of.
I recently got to thinking about the movies again when I saw that Amazon is streaming a Jack Reacher series, starting with Killing Floor (the first book), and starring someone called Alan Ritchson who, I guess, I’m supposed to have heard of because he was in the popular Titans TV series. Sorry, no.
But I did skim the article looking for one thing only: Alan Ritchson’s height (he’s 6’2″). And when I found it, I was mildly reassured. Because my first thought, about a decade ago, when I heard that the highly-bankrollable Tom Cruise would play Jack Reacher in the first movie was, “Good Lord. What a terrible choice. I suppose they must have filled in the rest of the cast with midgets.”
Tom Cruise, you see, is somewhere between 5’7″ and (on a good day) 5’8″ tall.
And Jack Reacher is 6’5″.
In spite of platform shoes, the optical illusion that comes from shooting (with the camera, of course) from below, and the miracles of modern digital technology, neither Jack Reacher film did particularly well, and I don’t think there’ll be a third one–at least, not one starring his mini-me. So our best hope rests on Amazon’s streaming series (which I won’t be able to watch unless it comes out on disc, because my crummy satellite Internet connection doesn’t do video at all well, has a bandwidth cap, and is prohibitively expensive). I can only hope it serves the story better than the movies did.
So. All this musing put me in mind of other spectacularly bad casting decisions, and which one might just be the worst ever? Cruise as Reacher is certainly in the top three, IMHO. But I’d also nominate Kevin Costner’s turn as Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Wooden as Costner is in Prince of Thieves, that movie does have some redeeming qualities (a lovely one at the very end, anyway) and Alan Rickman’s performance as the Sheriff of Nottingham is wondrously entertaining. What about Russell Crowe (superb in Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World), as Inspector Javert in Les Miserables? Ouch. Or George Clooney as a rather doughy Batman? Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County? Bo-r-ing.
Then there are those casting decisions which cause consternation to begin with, but which end up being so sublimely “right” that we cannot imagine any other actor in the role. I remember an interview with Bernard Cornwell, author of the “Sharpe” series, in which he expressed his initial unhappiness with Sean Bean’s being cast in the role for the ITV serializations of his novels. Sharpe, you see, was clearly described in Cornwell’s first few books (which I really do love) as having very dark, even black, hair; Sean Bean’s hair is of a decidedly blonder shade.
Then, Cornwell watched the first Sharpe episode on television.
“After that,” he said, “I never mentioned the color of Richard Sharpe’s hair again.”
What casting decisions resonate with you, for good, or for ill?
PS: I’ve always had mixed feelings about Viggo Mortensen as Aragorn. Is it just me?